MOCOA, Colombia: Devastating mudslides in the Colombian town of Mocoa killed at least 254 people including 43 children, President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday (Monday in Manila), as survivors described gruesome scenes amid the ruins.
Santos, who traveled to the southern town to personally oversee relief operations, warned the toll could keep climbing.
“Unfortunately, these are still preliminary figures,” he wrote on Twitter, after giving an earlier toll of 210.
“We offer our prayers for all of them. We send our condolences and the entire country’s sympathies to their families.”
More than 200 were injured in the disaster.
Survivors and rescuers kept up a bleak search for victims in the muck and debris.
Rescuers worked in stifling heat under a cloudy sky in the remote Amazon town, the capital of Putumayo department.
The debris left by the mudslides was everywhere: buried cars, uprooted trees, children’s toys and stray shoes sticking up out of the mud.
The torrent of mud, boulders and debris struck the town with little warning late Friday after days of heavy rains that caused three area rivers to flood.
It swept away homes, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber.
Most of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the town of 40,000 are poor and populated with people uprooted during Colombia’s five-decade-long civil war.
A “profoundly saddened” Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims.
Santos declared an emergency to speed up aid operations.
Health authorities said they had dispatched sanitation specialists in hopes of preventing outbreaks of disease.
Santos said four emergency water treatment plants would be set up “to avoid an epidemic and an even bigger public health crisis.”
An unexpected offer of help also came from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist rebel group engaged in a historic peace process with the government.
It said FARC members were prepared to help rebuild the town.